Education has always been considered the ladder from which kids could climb out of poverty. But a report released Wednesday shows that public school funding in most states helps maintain a generational, socioeconomic underclass in America.
The fifth edition of the Education Law Center’s “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card” found that most states’ public school funding is neither equitable nor fair.
“Only a handful of states — Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Ohio — have generally high funding levels and also provide significantly more funding to districts where student poverty is the highest,” the report said.
The study uses funding data from the 2013 census fiscal survey. The report goes beyond per-pupil calculations. Its four “fairness measures” are:
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▪ The funding level, gauging the overall level of state and local revenue to school districts. It compares each state’s average per-pupil revenue with other states’.
▪ Funding distribution, recording the distribution of funding across school districts in a state relative to student poverty. “The measure shows whether a state provides more or less funding to schools based on their poverty concentration, using simulations, ranging from zero percent to 30 percent child poverty,” the report said.
▪ Effort, recording differences in state spending for education relative to state fiscal capacity. ‘“Effort’ is defined as the ratio of state spending to gross state product,” the study said.
▪ Coverage, logging the proportion of school-age children in the state’s public schools compared with those home-schooled and kids in parochial and private schools. “The share of the state’s students in public schools and the median household income of those students is an important indicator of the distribution of funding relative to student poverty (especially where more affluent households simply opt out of public schooling), and the overall effort to provide fair school funding,” the report said.
The study found a huge funding disparity among states, ranging from a high of $17,331 per pupil in Alaska to a low of $5,746 in Idaho. Kansas ranked 22nd at $9,422 and Missouri came in 29th at $8,605 for 2013. The study constructs a model of school funding that controls for student poverty, regional wage variation, and school district size and density.
Missouri was among 14 states labeled “regressive” providing less financing to school districts with higher concentrations of low-income students. From the bottom, the 10 worst states, which earned an “F” grade, were Nevada, North Dakota, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, Vermont, Idaho, Wyoming, Alabama and Virginia.
Missouri has maintained a solid “F” grade every year, dating back to 2009. For now, Kansas since 2009 has maintained a “C” grade. But that could change with the continuing controversy in the Sunflower State over funding for schools and the ongoing fight between the Kansas Supreme Court and Legislature. Kansas has dropped from a rank of 16th in 2009 to 22nd in 2013. Missouri on the other hand (with some ups and downs) has gone from 34th in 2009 to 29th in 2013.
In 2013, 16 states had progressive financing distributions, which was down from 20 in 2008. Missouri and Kansas should strive to be like Delaware, Minnesota, Utah and Ohio, which were the four most progressive states. They provide their highest poverty districts, on average, 27 percent to 81 percent more funding per student than their lowest poverty districts.
Regressive states like Missouri provide significantly less funding to their highest poverty districts. “In Illinois and North Dakota, high poverty districts get only about 80 cents for every dollar in low poverty districts, while in Nevada high poverty districts receive only 71 cents to the dollar,” the study said.
It’s as if certain states want to maintain a poorly educated underclass, and students of color make up a disproportionate share of those at the bottom.